I had to check that this graphic novel’s title was not, in fact, Knights of Hermaphrodite.
It’s not. Instead, Knights of the Heliopolis is an Alejandro Jodorowsky and Jérémy project that was pitched as “a brilliant re-imagining of The Man on the Iron Mask”.
Brilliant, yes, but it’s as much of a re-imagining of Dumas’ classic as you can get without leaving all traces of the source material behind. Some of the characters are French, at least. Some are sword-wielding gorillas.
I won’t claim to be much of a scholar when it comes to filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, but this is clearly his work. I immensely enjoyed the graphic novel, but at times it was nearly too much of a roller coaster. The surges and spins threatened to throw me off. The story skips ahead in time and spans hundreds of years.
It’s a bit like the best chapters from several Assassin’s Creed games strung together to form a single story.
A trained fighter known only as 17 has to test his worth in a martial contest against a swordsman gorilla in the opening scene. How could anyone win in such a contest? By whipping off their clothes, revealing themselves to be a gorgeous hermaphrodite and announcing that beauty is the greatest weapon of them all.
Shortly afterwards, we find out that 17 is the child of Louis XVI and heir to France.
The story then rushes into sexual violence, breastfeeding from a dog and ghosts.
See what I mean about being a roller coaster of a ride?
It turns out that 17’s connection to European royalty is about as complex as it comes, interlinked with destinies, the supernatural and all sorts of Jodorowskian shenanigans.
Importantly, Jérémy brings the story to visual life wonderfully. Had each panel not been a joy to behold, I have to admit I think the disjointed, sometimes shocking, plot lurches might have tossed me off the roller coaster. As it happens, not only was I persuaded to find out where on Earth (or not!) the story was going, I wanted to see it happen too!
17 is being trained by a powerful group of alchemists. It’s the political influence of these arcane meddlers responsible for the royal birth of 17 in the first place.
I’ve barely scratched the surface but also fear I’ve said too much. Without a doubt, a good part of the joy in Knights of the Heliopolis is the page flip. Will you be in the same era, and what’s going on?
While I really enjoyed the book, I’m cautious about unqualified recommendations. Firstly, I was absolutely in the mood for something different and, secondly, benefited from nearly a week of having my digital review copy before finding the time to read it.
There are sexual encounters without sufficient consent. There are scenes full of nudity and gore. On the one hand, it’s shocking; on the other, this is a Jodorowsky adaptation. You’re already braced for impact.
While the trigger warnings are accurate, I don’t mean to over dramatise the contents, Mexico hasn’t banned this comic book, and Jodorowsky’s Fando y Lis was.
If you don’t know Alejandro Jodorowsky, this might not be a bad route to encounter the storyteller. It may not be the best Jodorowsky story, mainly due to the lurching tempo, but it’s a collaboration with illustrator Jérémy has the Iron Mask as a root (somewhere!), and both are safety lines back to reality.
Overall? I really enjoyed Knights of the Heliopolis, others will too, but some will run from it in horror. I don’t see much room in the middle.
My copy of Knights of Heliopolis was provided for review. The graphic novel is out on the 27th of April, from Titan Comics, and you can pre-order it from Amazon, comiXology and retailers like Things From Another World.
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